I’ve done it before. 72 kids, 120 kids, 300 kids…but there I was standing in front of 650 kids, telling them that I vow to learn each and every one of their names…eeek! What would possess somebody to endeavor to do such a ridiculous thing, let alone say it out loud?!?
Throughout the week as people watched me struggle to remember names learned just 30 seconds earlier, smack myself in the head, and once in awhile actually remember a name, I’ve been asked about my strategy for remembering so many names. Well, I don’t have just one. The reality is that I’ve got about five or six that I’m using at any given time. Let me see if I can articulate those for you:
Use It or Lose It: It’s true of anything in life, if we don’t use a skill it fades and is eventually lost. The same is true with learning names. The kids I met on Monday who I didn’t see the rest of the week; almost no chance I’ve remembered their name this long. There are, however, a bunch of kids who’ve helped train me by continuously asking “Do you remember my name?” To be honest, I probably didn’t know it the first or second time but those kids who continue to ask are now well ingrained in my heads. They are in the small group that I’ll still know after a weekend away. Use it or lose it.
Repetition: This is very similar to the first one but is more about the actual moment of learning, it is basically burning the memory of their name into my head. I’m not sure it works that well, kind of like Rote Memorization, but I generally say a kid’s name over and over in my head (and sometimes out loud) as I’m trying to make a connection somewhere in my brain.
Connect the Dots: Speaking of making connections – aside from #1, this is probably the most important for long term memory making. Our brains are like Velcro, memories and new information seek out a connection to stick to. If there is nothing for those names to latch onto they just bounce around for a few seconds and fall right out. I start with physical features, if there is something distinctive I can connect to that is always best…hair cuts, new glasses, and everyone wearing the same uniform are total enemies of this strategy! Connecting their name to popular culture, a person I’ve known in the past, or just something silly all help maintain the connection longer. Basically, for the long term recall, making a connection to a more permanent memory helps cement the new memory much faster and longer.
Visualization: I find that this one is very helpful for short-term memory. Often times when I’m trying to recall a name I’ll ask the kids where I learned their name. This helps me draw back to the initial creation of the memory and rummage around until something springs up. If they were sitting with friends at lunch, in Math class, or I met them on Orientation Day, these are all opportunities for me to flash back to recall their name. An aside here, there are certainly places that are not conducive to learning names – I’ve realized that in the morning or afternoon as kids are coming and going in a steady stream I can’t recall much of anything. So, if I’ve stopped into your room to meet a few kids, thank you – I’ll appreciate being able to visualize your room later while trying to think of a name 🙂
Context: This is generally a good tool for helping me remember names in the long term and something I’d recommend for teachers learning names in their classes. If I have the time I will engage a kid in a longer conversation, asking about their summer, their favorite class, or if they have brothers or sisters. If I can place them in a certain context later on then I’ll have an easier time recalling their name. Anything unique that I can learn about a student will greatly increase the odds of remembering their name. This strategy is tough for me because often I don’t have a couple minutes with every kid, this is why break and lunch are great for learning names!!
Spelling Champion: Never mind that I lost the spelling bee on the word “phlegm” in 6th grade (who would think there is a ‘g’ in there?!?) I’m often very good at processing auditory information but I find that when learning new names I benefit from having kids spell their name (especially the names that are “new” to me) while I phantom write them on my hand with my finger. The process of hearing, doing, and saying is a good combination. Also, there are a lot of kids who have “common” names that are spelled differently than I’m used to; this unique quality helps me remember as well.
At the end of the day, no matter what strategies I use it comes down to effort, determination, and perseverance. It’s not easy, it will take a long time, and I’ve already made so many mistakes it’s embarrassing. However, it’s important to me so I will continue to push on and, someday I hope, I will get there.
As the beginning of the year washes over us and we move into the next phases of the school year, it’s important to keep in mind that we’ll have ups and downs, highs and lows. Whether it’s remembering names, planning lessons, or trying out new strategies in class, take a risk and don’t be afraid of a challenge.
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